Civil war and violence often force large numbers of people to leave their lands. Multiple waves of displacement and (partial) return generate complex overlapping claims that are not easily solved. As people return to their regions of origin—sometimes after decades—they tend to find their land occupied by other settlers, some of whom hold legal entitlements. In the places of arrival, displaced people affect other people’s access as they seek to turn their temporary entitlements into more definite claims. The overlapping claims related to displacement pose serious dilemmas to land governance, which existing land laws and land governance institutions are not well-equipped to deal with. This paper outlines the main challenges for land governance as a first step to move the debate forward. The paper summarises the key challenges around three tensions: first, between short term conflict resolution and structural solutions; second, between state and customary/community-based governance; and finally, between principles (such as the right to return or restitution) and acknowledgement of the new situation.
From a background in development sociology, I have moved into the field of conflictstudies. My current work is at the crossroads of the two domains. My research interests concern social practice, governance processes and state formation in conflict and post-conflict settings. A focal point is land governance.